My scoutmaster used to say that God has a special place in his heart for drunks and foolish kids. Usually, he accompanied this expression with a story of mindless driving from his youth, but perhaps the adults present heard the expression a bit differently—our camping trips often included dragging along a case of Jack Daniels which mysteriously disappeared by weekend’s end. One way or the other, it was when I learned to drive that I started to appreciate the wisdom in his words.
A case in point was my friend, Bob, who I knew my senior year at Parkdale Senior High School. Bob used to invite me after school to go joy driving with a friend of his who owned a old Plymouth Valiant hand-painted in battlefield camouflage colors—dark green, brown, and gray. This friend loved to drive around curvy county roads as fast as he could. And while we were zipping around the back roads of Prince George’s County he regaled us with stories about police chases and other teenage folly. Never mind that a credibility gap existed between the stories that he told and the horsepower of the old Valiant—they were good stories and we enjoyed our time together.
Up to a point, I was the ideal driving student. I read the textbook cover to cover and scored grades high enough that my instructor used my test scores to curve class grades. However, I did less well once we started driving—the mechanics of driving required other, more mechanical skills which were new to me. Still, when I took the Maryland driver’s test, unlike many of my peers I passed the test on the first attempt.
My experience joy riding and my driving class results never seemed to intersect. Oh, I watched the gory videos of highway accidents produced by the Ohio State Police, but a driver’s license symbolized adulthood and freedom—why were nasty accidents in Ohio even relevant? After all, this was the 1970s—we now had cars newly equipped with seat beats and being a smart guy I always bucked up.
Because I was a serious student and generally responsible young person, my parents generously allowed me to drive more than many of my friends. I seldom abused their trust.
But, at one point a friend set me up with a date one evening and the four of us went together to see a movie. On the way, I entertained my guests by taking them joy riding through Greenbelt Park. Back then, the park was still open at night and the road was unlit; it curved up and down the many hills through the woods providing a perfect night-time roller coaster. So I turned off the car lights and drove in the dark through the park to the screams of my companions.
The movie was okay, but before it was over it became obvious that my role that evening was more as chauffeur and less as eligible bachelor—I was hurt and offended. To express my pain, on the way home I took off my seat belt which proceeded to buzz—it buzzed and buzzed and buzzed to the distress of my companions and my own delight…
I almost always buckle up my seat belt.